Remembering Mike Eaton
Almost everyone can reminisce back to the days of their youth and recall the influence of a favorite childhood teacher. For me, I loved school and I have a number of favorite teachers; however, the first among many may very well be my 12th-grade English teacher, William Granville (“Mike”) Eaton.
I think about Mr. Eaton often because he played so many different roles in my life – some of them on purpose or by example, and some of them by happenstance.
I was fortunate to have him as my English teacher in 1970-1971 at Westminster High School. It was the beginning of a 25-year friendship that had a profound influence on my life. He is also the reason I married my wife.
I’ll spare you that long story, except to share that Mr. Eaton was a dear friend of my wife’s family for many years. It was that connection that caused my wife and me to become reacquainted decades after we had lost track of each other.
By the time I had Mr. Eaton for senior English class, I was already writing short stories, of which he took a great deal of interest. He assigned his students an essay a week, which was due every Monday. He would say, “Mondays are sacred to writing.”
However, because he knew I wanted to be a writer, he always gave me extra writing assignments; all of which were absolutely unmercifully corrected, as by then I had developed, according to him, many bad writing habits; including my “overuse” of semi-colons, which drove him nuts.
Mr. Eaton was one of the many friendly and kind patriarchs in Carroll County for over a half-century. He passed away from cancer April 24, 1995; however he maintains to this day, a profound influence over who we are as a community.
He was born in Centerville on the Eastern Shore of Maryland June 22, 1908.
He came to Westminster in 1926 to attend Western Maryland College, where he graduated in 1930. It was in that year that he began his teaching career at Elmer A. Wolfe High School in Union Bridge.
In the early 1930s, he concurrently earned his Master’s degree, granted in 1935, from Columbia University in New York. He went on to teach English and drama in Carroll County Public Schools for 41-years before he retired in 1971.
After a year at Elmer Wolfe, he taught for three years at Charles Carroll High School in Silver Run, before coming to Westminster to teach at the original Westminster High School on Center Street.
He was there for only one year before the “new” Westminster High School opened on Longwell Avenue, where he taught for the entire life of the building as a high school, in Room 106.
Local writer and now-Carroll County Commissioner Dean Minnick wrote a tribute, on April 26, 1995, to Mr. Eaton in which he quoted another writer and student of Mr. Eaton’s, George Fringer.
Mr. Eaton “had no equal as a dedicated, witty, and inspiring builder of thought and educational excellence.
“Written themes were required in his class every week. They were carefully graded too… Faulty structure, grammatical or spelling mistakes, lack of parallel construction and outstanding errors were elaborated-on in the margins of the theme, and Eaton expected corrections to be made,” said Fringer.
For the next 25 years after my graduation, I did landscaping for Mr. Eaton and turned-in at least one short story a month, although he stopped meticulously correcting them after I left college.
My Westminster High School football coach, Jim Head – who is another one of my many favorite teachers – was also a fellow teacher and good friend of Mr. Eaton’s. Coach Head once wrote, “Mike was not for too much seriousness or self-absorption... he became for me a teacher in the art of living.
“Mike never drove a car, but he traveled in body and spirit farther than anybody I’ve ever known…
“Mike never preached from his deep moral center; he simply lived from the center, and therefore spoke silent volumes about how to live a decent life in a sometimes indecent world.”
At Mr. Eaton’s memorial service on April 29, 1995, Rev. David Helfrich, then-pastor at Grace Lutheran Church in Westminster said: “Mike Eaton was a great man… He will be remembered most in this community as a teacher.
“And, as we all know, it is not so much their subjects that the great teachers teach as it is themselves. More than Shakespeare, Dostoyevsky, and Kipling, Mike Eaton taught us about himself.
“Through him we learned about honesty… Through him we learned about love; love of self, love of others, and love of God…”
Mr. Eaton nurtured future leaders and inspired many students, friends, and colleagues to great success.
Among his students was writer, director, and actor Ernest Thompson whose best-known work is “On Golden Pond.” Mr. Thompson has subsequently, over the years, won an Oscar, a Golden Globe and Writer’s Guild of America awards.
Recently, the Historical Society of Carroll County formed a committee to create a lasting memorial to Mr. Eaton.
For over three decades, Mr. Eaton was Thelma Hoffman’s star boarder at Hoffman’s Inn, in Westminster, which was originally built in 1820. It is now owned by the Historical Society of Carroll County and known by its original name, Cockey’s.
Students, friends, colleagues, or anyone who is interested to learn more about Mr. Eaton, are invited to attend a special open house event in Cockey’s, 216 East Main Street in Westminster on Sunday, August 22, from noon to 4 P.M., when a “Mike Eaton Room” is to be dedicated by the Historical Society.
For more information, contact Timmi Pierce, the executive director of the Historical Society at 410-848-6494